Hope for Healing


All Parts Are Welcome

You may have experienced yourself explaining your feelings of conflicting emotions, “a part of me wants to…and then there’s a part of me that doesn’t…” as you attempt to understand your internal self, desires, and behaviors. With the Internal Family Systems (IFS) approach, you can learn to understand and work with your conflicting parts in a powerful and productive way.

An Evidenced-Based Approach

IFS is a comprehensive and evidenced-based approach to therapy that synthesizes the paradigm of system thinking (from the world of family therapy) and multiplicity of the mind. This model focuses on the subpersonalities, or “parts”, that reside within each of us. A person is viewed as an ecology of these parts, each with valuable qualities and roles to play, much like in a family.

A Transformative Experience

Traumatic, stressful, or upsetting life experiences can reorganize this internal system, forcing these parts out of their valuable roles, sometimes in unhealthy ways. These parts can transform back into the valuable internal family roles once circumstances appear safe, which is a piece of the work in IFS therapy.

Exiles, Managers and Firefighters

IFS views these parts as falling into three major categories:

  • Exiles are often isolated or “exiled” from the rest of the system, kept deeply hidden, avoided, or protected by Managers or Firefighters. They carry emotional memories and often hold uncomfortable feelings like shame, vulnerability or fear.
  • Managers are pro-active, protective parts that work hard by staying alert for danger, controlling situations or relationships, preventing being hurt, abandoned, or rejected, and keeping the system functioning through routine.
  • Firefighters are re-active protectors that tend to jump into action especially when an exile is at risk of being exposed. They “put out the fire” in ways that are considered harmful, but make sense to them, such as eating disorders, risk-taking behaviors, suicidal thoughts, or other self-harming activities.


Another aspect of IFS is the belief that everyone is at their core a “Self” that possesses crucial leadership qualities including compassion, confidence, perspective, and acceptance. Work with an IFS therapist involves differentiating this Self from the parts, accessing its resources and working together to help the parts out of their extreme roles. When parts learn to trust that they don’t need to respond in a protective role and can allow the Self to lead, the Self-led person is able to be present and hold their center rather than getting lost in emotions.

The 8 “C”s

There are 8 Cs of Self-leadership: calmness, curiosity, clarity, compassion, confidence, creativity, courage, and connectedness. An IFS therapist helps individuals learn ways to move towards these 8 Cs, better understand themselves, and not act out of stress or trauma-based responses. By allowing the Self to guide, individuals discover new choices as to how to experience, respond to and process challenging situations.

To learn more about Internal Family Systems, visit the Center for Self Leadership.